By Richard Thomas
New Orleans is tied to the very foundations of bourbon whiskey. While many legends surround just how Kentucky bourbon whiskey came into being, one thing that is beyond doubt is that the bulk of Kentucky’s whiskey trade went down the Cumberland, Ohio and Tennessee rivers and onto the Mighty Mississippi, and from there down to Louisiana. Even in the late 18th Century, the residents of the Pelican State had a certain hedonism about them, and they grew to love the whiskey that came from Bourbon County (then a vast area in central Kentucky; 34 modern counties stand within its old boundaries), so much so that they named the whiskey after it.
Because Louisiana drinkers and merchants gave Kentucky’s signature whiskey its name, finding ways to put bourbon into Louisiana’s signature dishes just seems like the right thing to do. That is where this bourbon chicken and shrimp gumbo comes from.
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
3 celery stalks, diced
1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3 tablespoons of bourbon whiskey
6 cups of chicken broth
1 can of diced tomatoes
2 lbs of boneless chicken, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 bay leaves
1 lb of shrimp
1/2 cup of fresh or frozen cilantro
Turn a stove burner onto medium heat, and combine the flour and oil in the pot to create your roux, or thickening base. Stir constantly, and it should start foaming after three to five minutes. Keep stirring until the roux turns a golden brown, which should take between 10 and 12 minutes. I use olive oil, but that’s because I live in Portugal and olive oil is cheap here.
Drop the Louisiana Trinity vegetables (celery, onion, and green pepper) into the roux, and stir until the diced vegetables are coated with roux. Continue cooking until the vegetables are softened, stirring occasionally. Pour in the bourbon and broth in increments, gradually adding a little of each and stirring it into the pot, allowing for an even absorption of the roux.
Add the can of tomatoes, chicken chunks, and bay leaves. Also add splashes of Tobasco sauce, salt and pepper to taste, but don’t over do it on the salt and Tobasco. Too much hot sauce and salt cancels out the flavors of the bourbon. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow it to simmer uncovered for one hour.
After an hour of simmering, put in the shrimp and let that cook for an additional ten minutes. At the very end, add the cilantro.
Serve over white rice.